How using friends in studies can be problematic

Posted by ap507 at Sep 02, 2014 10:39 AM |
Worry over ‘voyeuristic gaze’ in using personal networks for data collection

A new study led by Professor Jo Brewis (pictured) in the School of Management highlights how it can be problematic if researchers use friends in order to provide data for their study.

In the study she argues that using friends for research has advantages especially if the research touches on sensitive subjects such as sexuality, but could be viewed as problematic for exposing friends to – amongst other concerns - a ‘voyeuristic gaze’.

Speaking about the paper, published online in the British Journal of Management in mid-August, Professor Brewis suggests that using personal networks means she does not have to ‘cold call’ people for her research on these sensitive subjects. However, when it came to writing up her research, she said she found aspects of one chapter in particular ‘very difficult to write.’

For example, she suggests she felt what Fraser and Puwar refer to as ‘a sense of betrayal and disloyalty’ when using data about the breakdown of a relationship of a friend.  She also cites McConnell-Henry et al. when commenting on her fears that she had become “excited by ‘juicy’ data at the expense of the participants’ feelings”, and goes on to write about the risk of “exposing [them] to readers’ ‘voyeuristic gaze’ ”.

She also assessed other risks of using friends for research, saying: “Have I reduced these six women to two-dimensional characters on the page, stripping away their individuality and making them ‘archetypal’ divorcees, stepmothers, mothers manqué, expectant mothers, ‘working mothers’, single women and so on?

“I still feel researching our friends represents particularly delicate ethical ground. I think some of this ground has to be navigated in any qualitative research project, and I certainly do not believe we should avoid research with friends. But to me this kind of convenience sampling has a number of important ethical implications.”

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